The art of aquascaping the planted aquarium is becoming increasingly popular among enthusiasts around the world. We would like to share our passion with others who love this art.
Our journey with the planted aquarium
For the past 25 years (give or take), I have had an interest in keeping tropical fish in aquariums. I, like most, started out with an aquarium, a 20 gallon hexagon, if I recall, that I found at a yard sale. I didn’t think much of it at first, it was cheap, and seeing it brought back all the childhood memories that I had of keeping various critters.
As a child, I loved to collect mice, gerbils, Guiana pigs, and snakes. If you name it, at one point I had it. I think I had an addiction for small controlled environments. Anyway, the cheap 20 gallon that I found was all crusty and in need of a serious cleaning, but I didn’t care. Mostly because at that point I did not realize my passion, and partly because I knew I could clean it up good enough to make it look nice.
At that point, I set up the tank, filled it with tap water (not optimal), bought some gravel, probably black or red or some funky color, some fake plastic plants, and if I can recall, a few Zebra Danios, or Bloodfin Tetras, or both, or maybe something else. It was a long time and a lot of events ago. Long story short, this seemingly unimportant little world became a huge interest to me, and even though the setup came nothing close to what I have today, or setups you would see in an Aqua Design Amano showroom, or what you would see George Farmer or Oliver Knott create. But I loved it.
Fast forward to now
Since then, I have had various aquariums over the years, but it wasn’t until the past 3 or 4 years that I have become serious about aquascaping Nano aquariums. In the past, water parameters were not even a blip on the radar in my consciousness, let alone the requirements for individual species, (i.e. compatibility with other species, what type of environment they cared to live in, etc.) I had no idea that a planted aquarium could be a beautiful work of art.
But now a planted aquarium, lighting, CO2, substrate and parameters are of a huge importance and interest to me. An example of one fault, and probably one of the few I will share out of embarrassment (we all make rookie mistakes) would be when I set up my first 30 long. You know the one you buy at your local big box pet store and get it home and woo over it for months and months? Yeah, that one. I crammed so many community fish and plastic plants in that setup that it was full to the brim with all kinds of odds and ends.
A beautiful planted aquarium was not even considered at that point. I cringe when I think about what I did to my fish before I learned how to take care of them. In my defense I will say that back then, I did not have the internet for research and solely relied on the few books that I purchased at the local big box pet store or checked out at the library.
Our current setups
5 Gallon Fluval Chi
This planted aquarium is not high tech, or technical at all. In fact it is very low tech and not originally purchased for aquascaping. We did however create a pretty cool scape in it, and it is nice to look at. Vanessa (our Betta) seems to be very content in her home with a Nerite snail or two. This is the perfect aquarium for a Betta because you can control the amount of surface movement. Betta’s like very little to no surface movement and flow.
The filter and lighting are pretty simple and came stock with the kit. I paid no attention to equipment details at the time because I had no idea that this would be the start of my aquascaping addiction. The light is nothing spectacular, but I think that the placement of this tank right next to the window allows it to be what it is, a dimly lit tank that looks shaded most of the time. We have Anubias Nana (Anubias Barteri Var. Nana) Anubias Nana Petite (Anubias Barteri Var. Nana ‘Petite’), a Dwarf Lily Bulb (Nymphaea Stellata that is not doing great under the low light LED’s), a Marimo Moss Ball, a Sword that I don’t remember the species of, and Cryptocoryne (C. wendtii) that we have transplanted from other setups.
8 Gallon Mr. Aqua low iron rimless
This was our first real ‘high tech’ setup and our aquascaping learning tank. The pictures you see here are of the second scape in this tank. The first was an epic disaster. We knew nothing about lighting, CO2, and nutrient balance and the aquarium suffered. We struggled with layout and design, did not have pressurized CO2, and had massive BGA outbreaks. It lasted about a year until we decided to move the Ember Tetras to a new home and dismantle the setup. Our first planted aquarium failure!
Before we re-scaped the tank again, I did countless hours of research on how to use CO2 and nutrients, as well as what parameters were optimal for plant growth. I did not want to make the same mistake again, mostly because I would have probably quit the hobby. We replanted this aquarium with Cryptocoryne wendtii Tropica, Cryptocoryne undulata ‘red’ which to this day I still can not find any information on. I purchased this species at PetSmart in a tissue culture pack, and wow, did it get big! As you can see in the picture that plant has taken over the entire left side of the tank, and the root system is dominating under the substrate. We also have planted Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ for a carpeting plant, S. Repens, Java Moss, Alternanthera reineckii, and lastly, Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis parvula).
This tank was purchased as a quarantine setup and not a planted aquarium, but my wife decided to make it a comfortable quarantine tank and scaped it, which defeats the purpose of having a QT tank for emergencies. She did a beautiful job of making this very cheap aquarium look fantastic, but long story short, we now have a dry 5 ½ gallon sitting on a shelf ready to be used for quarantine if needed. This tank is low tech like our Fluval Chi and sits in front of the window in our office. We have an AquaClear HOB filter and use the window for light.
There is nothing fancy or high-tech here. All of the plants in this tank are cuttings from other setups that looked too nice to throw away. Some plants have surprisingly made it in this setup with no CO2, and some have not.
Mr. Aqua 12 Long
Our second showpiece. This tank really pushed the boundaries of how to scape thanks to James Findley and his Green Machine Videos.
In this scape we have planted Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle), Hydrocotyle Tripartita Japan, Cameroon Moss, Phoenix Moss, Mini Pellia, Rotala Magenta, Marsh Mermaidweed (Proserpinaca palustris L.), Belem (Star Plant, which sadly did not make it due to the hardness of our water being a little too high), Windelov Java Fern, Anubias Nana Petite (Anubias Barteri Var. Nana ‘Petite’), Baby Tears (Hemianthus glomeratus), and Hygrophila pinnatifida. Like our 8 gallon above, we have many pictures of this setup from the original idea all through the setup and to this day.
3 Gallon JBJ Picotope
This was our last Nano aquarium purchase. I bought this tank for my wife for her birthday a couple of years ago. This setup went from a low tech tank with all the cheap equipment that comes stock with a combo kit to a high-tech plant growing machine. It is still a work in progress. We had the luxury of visiting Aqua Forest Aquarium in San Francisco a few weeks ago and purchased a small external power filter and a new LED light.
It takes two of us
Thankfully my wife shares the same passion that I have for this hobby. We have made all of our scapes a collaborative effort and we both have special interests in certain parts of creating a planted aquarium. She definitely has a green thumb and loves her plants, and has a very creative mind. I really like the mechanics of the setup and making the equipment work behind the furniture. We both share the same passion in creating the furniture that our aquariums set on, and we both love the final result of our imagination.
We would love to continue our collection of Nano aquariums, but in reality, if I want to keep my day job (and I should if I want to continue to invest in this hobby) then I need to concentrate on keeping the environments we currently have happy and healthy. However, we still have our wish list that includes a Nano reef tank, a paludarium, and someday, when I have more time (and a bigger house), a very large tank, 180 gallons or more, with a sump and beautiful furniture to set it on.
My wife and a I have kicked around the idea of opening a retail location here in Phoenix that strictly caters to the planted aquarium. There are several local fish stores here in the valley, but not one of them cater specifically to our niche. When we want to visit a store that strictly caters to the aquascaping crowd, we have to drive to Tucson to visit Ben and his crew at Arizona Nature Aquatics. That is exactly what we need up here. Maybe someday.
We are also considering propagating aquarium plants, and creating an online store here. Who knows, maybe one day you will be reading one of our blogs and see some of our cuttings for sale. After all, what else can we do with all of our beautiful cuttings?
If you would like for me to post detailed articles on the creation of our scapes let me know in the comments below. I have many pictures of each setup from the conception of the idea (vacations and hikes), the actual build, to the final creation.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. We created this blog in hope that it would be a showcase for our passion for aquascaping and getting constructive feedback in the comments section from the planted tank community. Because this is a passion for those around the world, this is one of the only means to share with others what we do and what we love. I hope that you will return to see the rest of our story unfold…